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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 19, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Family in Massachusetts in 1700s

Q: I am a Morrison and have traced my family back to Robert Morrison, 1750, in North Bridgewater Mass. I was told that the Scottish and Irish groups did not come over to America until after 1707, because this was a British colony. What were the main ports and how can I find the list of people that were on the ships? -- Todd

A: Prior to 1820, the United States, and earlier the Colonies, did not require lists for those passengers disembarking in the colonies. Therefore, there are no microfilmed passenger lists such as you may be used to using with other family lines. However, this does not mean there is not some way of determining what ship your ancestor arrived on and when it arrived.

It is important to point out that you will find nothing more than the name of your ancestor, the ship that your ancestor arrived on, when it docked (or began its voyage) and possibly the port from which it left. If you were hoping to find out where in England, or Scotland or Ireland your ancestor came from or was born, you are likely to be disappointed as far as the lists of passengers are concerned. This information was generally not included in the resources you are most likely to use.

Probably the easiest way to search for such lists is through the wonderful index by P. William Filby. The Immigrant and Passenger Lists Index which is available in a multi-volume set at many genealogical libraries is a must use source for a search such as this. It was begun in 1982 in three volumes and has added an addendum in each consecutive year. The last time I was at my local library, I noticed that the earlier yearly volumes had been somewhat condensed. And this resource is also available on CD as well. You can find it by visiting the Family Tree Maker web site and going to their catalog of CDs and selecting Passenger lists.

Filby's index is an index to published resources. Books that have had either passenger lists included in them or books on immigrants. And it is to these volumes that an entry in Filby's will direct you. And through these volumes, you might be able to find out additional information about your Robert MORRISON, if he was the immigrant.

Born in Mississippi

Q: I am trying to trace my Great Grandfather back to his father and so on. I have found Joseph Clyde ALLISON was born in Holly Springs,Marshall county,Mississippi in Nov 1853. I have his death certificate and that document states his father was Ben ALLISON. The certificate does not say who Ben's wife was. In other words, it doesn't tell me a whole lot. It seems that I need help with suggestions on going about finding my Great Grandfathers father. I know Mississippi didn't keep records and such things as births. My ALLISON family are rather obscure farmers from Mississippi and it is hard to find anything on them. -- Jack

A: If you haven't done so already, you will want to search the 1850 and 1860 federal census indexes for Mississippi. You know that Joseph Clyde ALLISON was born in 1853 and is the supposed son of Ben ALLISON. That means you can begin to search the indexes for Ben ALLISON.

Remember to search for variant surname spellings such as ELLISON. Even if you are certain that your family always spelled it with an A, that doesn't mean the census enumerator knew that. Or, since you will be searching an index, that the indexer recognized the first letter as an A. In fact, I recently heard a professional genealogist suggest that you search under all the vowels when searching an index. Variant spellings crop up in very strange ways and it is important to try and remember to search indexes on as many as you can think of.

If you find Ben in the index, it is likely that he will be listed with his wife. And it is also possible that you will find additional children in the indexes as well.

Another resource that might help to reveal the name of Ben's spouse is land records. Very often when a man was selling land, his wife would need to sign what is called a release of dower. This is usually found below the actual deed in question. It states that the woman has appeared before the county clerk and agrees to the sale of the property of her own free will, and thus the relinquishment of her one-third right. At least the wife's given name is included in such documents.

While it is true that many states, including Mississippi, didn't begin to record vital records until the late 1800s or early 1900s, there was an exception to this rule. Marriage records are very often kept much earlier than other vital records. This was due in part to the legal issues of land ownership should a man die intestate. It was necessary for the woman to prove her right. As a result, you may find that there are marriage records for the time period in question. These records are likely to have been microfilmed by the Family History Library and therefore available through your local Family History Center.

A Book on Quebec

Q: I am looking for a book to help aid me in my search for my family tree. My family is from Canada and I heard about a book that may or may not be called St. Hermenegilde Quebec, 100 yrs. Town Bicentennial. The book is in French, but there are many family members in it. If you could help me I would really appreciate it. -- Sue

A: One of the first places that you should check is the Family History Library. You have access to a catalog to their holdings through your local Family History Center as well as online. Family History Centers are branches of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. And this is one of the premier genealogical libraries in the nation.

Since the book has to do with Quebec, you will want to search under Quebec in the Family History Library Catalog. Then look under History. If they have it, you will want to check if they have it on microfilm. Unfortunately, they do not allow the circulation of their books to the local Family History Centers, so it would need to be on either microfilm or microfiche in order to get it to your local center.

If it isn't available on film or fiche, then you may want to entertain the notion of hiring a professional genealogist that resides in Salt Lake City. They can go to the Library and extract the information you are in need of.

Another option would be to do a search of other online library catalogs.

An Unusual Name

Q: My (Great x5) Grandfather Suplina Judd b 1808 NY was (I believe) the Son of Suplina Judd b 1774. He moved to NY in 1800 and I have found him on the NY Census at that time. In 1810, he had six kids and I need the find out if my Suplina was one of his sons. In my favor: the dates and locations match up and it is a unique name, but unless I can prove he is related I will not be able to go forward. What would be the best way to go about this? What type of records should I try to find him in? -- Justin

A: One of the best records to use when trying to prove a familial connection is probate records. If the individual left a will, it usually lists the names of his children and wife in the document. If the individual didn't leave a will, then the papers generated in the probating of his estate will likewise generate some names.

There is a difference between a will and probate records. A will is a document written by an individual to distribute his or her property after he or she is deceased. This is a legally binding document and may include the names of spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings. You will also want to pay close attention to the names of the siblings, as these people often turn out to be related in some way.

A probate is the actual distribution of the property of a deceased individual. You can find probate records especially when the deceased has not left a will. However, if you have found a will, that does not necessarily mean you won't find probate records as well.

You will want to research Suplina JUDD, b. 1774. Determine when and where he died. Then begin to search for a will or probate record. You can find many of these on microfilm through your local Family History Center.

Stuck in Kentucky

Q: I am having trouble finding my ancestors. My grandfather was John Alred EVANS of Kentucky. He was the son of Isaac EVANS and Belle VALLANCE. He was born 10 Feb 1880. -- DCHAR22505

A: There are times that when we discover the names of parents for a given individual and rather than continuing our research on the individual, in this case John Alred EVANS, we try to jump back to the parents. This usually results only in frustration and brick walls.

You will want to locate John Alred EVANS in the 1880 census. He should appear in the 1880 soundex under his father, Isaac EVANS. You will want to then go to the actual census page. It is tempting to think that the information found on the soundex card is sufficient, but the census page contains much more information. You will also want to locate John Alred EVANS in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 census. If you haven't done so, you will want to get the marriage and death records for John Alred EVANS.

By getting all this information, you will begin to pick up clues for both Isaac ALRED and Bell VALLANCE which you can then use to help you in locating them. The 1880 census will tell you how old they were in 1880 and where they were born. You will want to turn your attention to land records and tax lists to determine when Isaac moved to the area and when he reached majority. Males aged 21 and older were taxed. And then you can begin to track back in the census to find Isaac and Belle. Keep in mind that prior to 1880 they may have been living at home. Therefore they will not show up in any of the currently available census indexes. In order to locate them, you will need to search all census entries for EVANS and VALLANCE.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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